Nintendo Is Getting Better At Free Post-Launch Content On Switch

Recent updates to New Pokemon Snap and Mario Golf: Super Rush exemplify what seems to be a new post-launch approach for Nintendo.

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Nintendo is notoriously slow to change, especially when it comes to connected experiences like multiplayer and online services. And while the company still certainly has a long way to go, we're starting to see small signs of a more modern Nintendo in how it's handling game updates for some of its first-party franchise titles like Mario Golf: Super Rush and New Pokemon Snap.

Both games received substantial updates this week. New Pokemon Snap's update, announced last week, adds three new areas and tons of new Pokemon and behaviors to document with your trusty camera. Mario Golf: Super Rush's update was even more sudden, dropping as soon as it was announced and adding a new golfer, Toadette, a new golf course, and more. Nintendo also promised more updates to come for Super Rush.

What was most striking was how quickly these updates followed post-release. Pokemon Snap just came out in April, and Mario Golf in June. There was a time that Nintendo offering a free content update within four months would have been unheard of, much less a single month after release. But that has become the norm rather than the exception in the Nintendo Switch era, especially for more traditionally connected experiences like Mario sports titles.

When Nintendo released Mario Tennis Aces in 2018, it was criticized mostly for being bare-bones at launch. The tennis mechanics and fundamentals were there--there just wasn't all that much to do. But Nintendo apparently planned for just that critique, beginning a steady stream of content updates that began a month after launch and then continued every month for a full year post-launch.

Judging by this first Mario Golf update coming so soon, we may see a similar release cadence for new Super Rush content as well. Mario Golf: Super Rush wasn't criticized quite as much for anemic content as Mario Tennis was, but that could be a sign that Nintendo is learning how to plan regular content drops meant to keep players coming back. Kirby Star Allies, another multiplayer-focused game, received regular free updates as well.

Nintendo has also made a habit of updating its more single-player-focused games within the first six months. Super Mario Odyssey and Luigi's Mansion 3 both got significant updates roughly 4-5 months after release--the former adding Luigi content and the latter adding new multiplayer content. And the new approach seems to have extended out to The Pokemon Company. Pokemon Sword and Shield were the first in the series to get large-scale expansion content in lieu of an "Ultra" re-release like Sun and Moon, signaling a different approach to paid DLC as well.

Nintendo's commitment to online support has been halting and inconsistent at times. Splatoon 2, primed to be an ongoing live service game, received its anticipated paid Octo expansion almost a year after launch.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons relied on free updates for its seasonal content, whereas many past Animal Crossing games packed everything into the core game file and then unlocked them based on the real-time clock. This let Nintendo preserve some surprises from time-travelers and data miners. However, some fans found the company to be frustratingly slow to adapt to the game's wildfire popularity. Amid the backdrop of the pandemic it almost immediately became one of the Switch's most popular games, and Nintendo arguably squandered the opportunity to scale up its plans to match the moment. If anything, the game now in its second year should be getting even more ambitious with its updates to keep players engaged, not scaling down and repeating events. (In fairness, the pandemic itself may have disrupted Nintendo's development in this regard.)

At the same time, this is a marked change from the Wii U era when updates were even more sporadic. Games like Pikmin 3 and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze may have benefited from this approach, but they were left as static experiences. The handful of games that did receive significant post-launch support like Mario Kart 8 were the exception, rather than the rule.

This is also a notable development in light of Nintendo's first-party pricing. Nintendo games rarely go on sale, and when they do, it's typically not the deep discounts we see on other platforms. This is frustrating for gamers looking to score discounts, but it does have the side-effect of reassuring day-one purchasers that they won't regret paying the launch price only weeks later. Nintendo committing to a regular cadence of updates that players know they can count on may help further cement that relationship with the player, while also helping to convince holdouts who may not have felt the value proposition was quite worth it at launch.

The progress Nintendo has made supporting its games with free updates hasn't been linear. But this week's releases--for two of its most recent first-party games--are a hopeful sign that the Switch generation will ultimately develop a consistent and relatively modernized strategy of post-launch content. If this holds, we can expect to see more coming for Nintendo's upcoming slate like Metroid Dread, Splatoon 3, and Pokemon Legends: Arceus.

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